Category Archives: BMA Archives

Introduction to the BMA Archives

LS1.2sThe Baltimore Museum of Art, from the south, circa 1940.

Everywhere you look at the BMA, there are connections to history—from the architecture of the John Russell Pope building to the re-creation of Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s apartments. The Museum’s Archives is reflective of this, with a rich array of materials documenting the history of the BMA, as well as the art collectors and other people who have helped shape it from 1914 to the present. Whether you have a scholarly research question or are just curious about the BMA’s past, helpful resources can be found in the Archives.

What’s in the Archives?
The Archives’ collection comprises approximately 1,400 linear feet or almost four football fields of primary source material such as letters, diaries, meeting minutes, photographs, films, audio recordings, architectural plans, research notes, and financial documents.  These are divided into two distinct parts: institutional records and manuscripts. The former are records of the activities of the Museum’s staff, volunteers, and trustees. For example, the Prints, Drawings and Photographs Department Records include curators’ research for exhibitions, correspondence about purchasing works of art, and logistical documents for the Print Fairs.  Manuscripts, on the other hand, are the personal papers of art collectors and others with a connection to the Museum. Claribel Cone and Etta Cone’s papers include account books listing their purchases while traveling in Europe, letters from Claribel to Etta describing life in Germany during World War I, and photographs of their apartments in Baltimore.

CECHOMES.18

Front room, Claribel Cone’s apartment (8B), Marlborough Apartments, Baltimore, Maryland

How do I find resources and materials?
To learn more about the materials in the Archives, start by reviewing the finding aids, which are easily keyword searchable with your browser’s find function (Ctrl+f). Because of the volume of material inside each box listed in the finding aids (often hundreds of items), you will find general descriptions of categories of materials called series or sub-series—correspondence, financial records, research, etc. When the significance of the materials warrants more information, detailed folder or item descriptions may also be included.

If you spot something that seems helpful to your research, please contact us. You don’t need to be a BMA member to visit the Archives. All researchers are welcome, by appointment, Monday through Friday, between 9 am and 5 pm.  To make an appointment, call (443) 573-1778 or email bmalibrary@artbma.org.       

LP1.14.1s

Letter from Samuel Putnam Avery to George A. Lucas, August 25, 1895

Membership at the BMA – curing septic stomachs since 1940

Grace Smith in "Temperance" Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940  Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm  Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

Grace Smith in “Temperance” Costume and Joseph Katz in costume with placard, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America exhibition, The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940
Digital reproduction of 1 lantern slide, 4 x 3.25 cm
Photograph Collection, Archives and Manuscripts Collections, The Baltimore Museum of Art. LS3.32

We’ve always suspected the healing properties of a BMA membership, but a recent find by colleagues at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art confirms that joining the BMA will make you well…

Illustrations associated with the exhibit A souvenir of Romanticism in America at the Baltimore Museum of Art, 1940. Leslie Cheek papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Two weeks ago, we received an email from staff at the Archives, noting that they had “uncovered an object in one of our collections which refers to the BMA.” The object – part of the Leslie Cheek papers, 1940-1983 – was an unusual one – a fold-out triptych that depicted three cartoon stomachs, each of which was in a different state of health. The top stomach was a septic stomach, “gangrened by rum and tobacco”; the second one was a sick stomach, “relieved by abstinence but unsatisfied”; finally, the stomach at the bottom of the triptych was a sound stomach, a state achieved “after joining the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Our interest was piqued. Where had this object come from, and what did it refer to? Could we get any more information on it? Would joining the BMA still heal an ailing stomach?

To the BMA Archives!

To solve this mystery, we turned to Emily Rafferty, the BMA’s Head Librarian and Archivist. In short order, she uncovered the wonderful image above, which depicts Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, holding the triptych. In addition, the full description for the piece in our files gives far more context to the stomach cartoon:

Two images from the exhibition, A Souvenir of Romanticism in America (May 10 – August 10, 1940) at The Baltimore Museum of Art. At right is Miss Grace Hooper Smith, BMA Membership Secretary, dressed as a woman protesting the consumption of alcohol. The exhibition turned the museum top to bottom into a nineteenth century institution – publications were written in the florid style of the period, costumed actors were hired to greet museum-goers, and a Godey’s Ball was held for the opening. One of the publications was titled, “Popular Poisons, Tract No. 4: Rum and Tobacco” and it appealed to museum-goers to pledge temperance and membership in the Museum. On the left is likely Joseph Katz, a trustee at the time also in costume and holding a sign advertising the exhibition.

There you have it. Not only was the mystery unraveled, but we also get to take a delightful wander down memory lane. It seems like a perfect moment for #throwbackthursday.

What do you think? Does art cure what ails you? Do you have a favorite #throwbackthursday moment? Share it with us. We’d love to hear about the mysteries you’ve uncovered when looking into the past.